Millions of years ago
The caves at Wookey Hole first began to form when rain water percolated through the porous, sedimentary rock of the Mendip Hills. This process slowly began to create the chambers of the caves. Eight of which you can see on your visit. There are many more chambers, only a few of which have been explored fully.
DID YOU KNOW?
Wookey Hole Caves are formed of many sedimentary rocks, including limestone, sandstone and a natural concrete known as dolomitic conglomerate (or puddingstone).
50,000 years ago
During the past 50,000 years, humans and animals have lived in and around Wookey Hole Caves. The caves provided a safe and, perhaps surprisingly, comfortable place to live, having dry spaces, being easy to defend, and at a constant temperature in winter and summer. We have found flint tools that were used by Neanderthals in the caves (which can be seen in Wells Museum).
35,000 years ago
Expert archaeologists have determined that Wookey Hole Caves were occupied by cave hyenas (now extinct) and humans alternately between 35,000 and 25,000 BCE. Bones of tropical and ice age animals – such as rhinoceros, bear, mammoth and lion – have been discovered in the Enchanted Valley. The experts suspect that packs of these ancient hyenas, working together, drove their prey over the cliff edge and then ate their victims.
2,600 years ago
The Celts were farmers who lived in or near the entrance to Wookey Hole Caves for over 600 years. Using the lighter area near the mouth of the caves, the Celts also burnt animal fat in simple lamps to explore deeper into the chambers. They reached deep into a part of the caves which is now blocked by the river – which they used as a burial ground. Cave burials were common for early humans all over the world and we have several examples in Somerset.
2,000 years ago
When the Romans arrived 2,000 years ago – building roads and exploiting the rich mineral resources of the Mendip Hills – they cooperated with the local Celts in order to safeguard their newly opened lead mines and transportation routes. As well as building a spa in Bath during this era, the Romans worshipped Wookey Hole’s natural spring, its source located in what we now call the Enchanted Valley. Since then (and to this day) many visitors – Pagan or otherwise – came to worship the spring water.
400 years ago
Fast-forward in time to the 1700’s, and Wookey Hole Caves becomes a place of intrigue, rather than a place to live. Visitors from far and wide came to admire the underground river. Around this time a massive earthquake in Lisbon sent shockwaves around the world and is suspected to have caused damage in the caves, including knocking down massive stalactites that had been forming for millions of years.
DID YOU KNOW?
Stalactites and stalagmites are formed over very long periods as water slowly drips from the roof of caves. Tiny deposits of the minerals in the water are left behind, gradually growing up into a “mitey” stalagmite from the floor, or forming a stalactite working its way down from the ceiling. When a stalactite has a complementary stalagmite below it, they can both grow to connect, becoming a single column reaching all the way down from the roof to the floor of a cave. forming a stalactite working its way down from the ceiling.
100 years ago
Anthropologists and archaeologists have been involved in a number of exciting excavations over the past century or so. In 1912, an archaeologist named Herbert Balch discovered an almost complete skeleton of an old woman, remains of some goats, a dagger, and other Iron Age remains. These artefacts added to the existing collection of prehistoric flint tools and various bones – human and animal. Some of these incredible discoveries can be seen close-up in the Museum in the Mill which you can visit on your trip to Wookey Hole.
In 1927, Wookey Hole Caves first opened to the public. They had a totally different experience to that of visitors today. Only a few chambers were accessible.
Explorers today can access Wookey Hole Caves with ease (without having to wade through the river!) A safe route takes visitors through a number of chambers, with added tunnels and walkways connecting the journey through the awesome wonders of Wookey Hole Coves. The adventurous can even go deeper with the Wild Wookey experience.